On a Tuesday afternoon in April,
after a final makeup and wardrobe check, Philip Elias took his seat
beneath the glowing lights at the WQED studio in Pittsburgh. Elias,
CEO and executive producer of Velocity Broadcasting, along with
Thomas Baldwin, president and CEO of Chicago-based Morton’s
Restaurant Group, and others, had assembled in the studio to talk
about the private satellite-broadcasting network that they had
built into nearly 70 Morton’s The Steakhouse restaurants across the
country. The panel’s mediator, local news anchor Darieth Chisholm,
took her mark in front of the cameras and waited for the director
to signal that she was on the air.
Just after 2 p.m., with a flourish of
music and graphics, Chisholm’s image appeared in high definition on
nine-foot screens inside the boardrooms of Morton’s restaurants
nationwide. A total of 600 attendees, snacking on hors d’oeuvres,
watched and listened as Chis-holm’s voice resonated in surround
sound, introducing the afternoon’s agenda. Over the course of the
subsequent hour, the panelists extolled the virtues of satellite
broadcasting as an innovative communications tool for meeting
planners. For a few minutes, before the live transmission ceased,
the panelists entertained questions from attendees, who called in
on their cell phones from coast to coast.
When Pittsburgh-based Velocity first
beamed a satellite feed to a Morton’s boardroom in 2005, it joined
the ranks of several other satellite technology companies that
offer broadcast services directly to meeting planners.
“It’s such a great way to get the
message out to such a large audience on one night,” says Jennifer
Bruinooge, senior manager of meetings operations for ProActive
Marketing Group, based in Upper Saddle River, N.J., which produced
its first Velocity broadcast in June for a pharmaceutical
The appeal of the technology, which is
more robust than traditional video-conferencing, is that planners
can broadcast visually and aurally engaging presentations, often
from key opinion leaders in their fields, to vast, geographically
diverse audiences -- at hotels or restaurants or wherever screens
can be set up and satellite downlinks established -- without
requiring the attendees or the presenters to travel to a single
This has been a coup to meeting
planners and marketing managers in several industries, particularly
the medical and pharmaceutical fields. New drug launches, clinical
research presentations and continuing medical education programs
demand fast and broad dissemination of a consistent, often tightly
regulated, message and are enhanced greatly by personal appearances
from top physicians or researchers.
Traditionally, pharmaceutical companies
have launched a new product or presented new research about drugs
by hosting a series of dinner meetings for physicians throughout
the country, which can take months to complete and which some
planners say have lost appeal in recent years. “It’s hard to get
[doctors] to come to local dinner meetings anymore,” Bruinooge
says. Satellite company executives believe that their events offer
a cachet that local, one-off meetings can’t provide -- the thrill
of participating in a live, nationwide event -- and thus are more
likely to entice physicians to attend.
Producing an effective broadcast --
essentially a TV-quality talk show and a multiple-site meeting
across several time zones simultaneously -- is a challenge. “It’s
like ripping off a Band-Aid, as opposed to tugging at it,” says
Mark T. Luckie, marketing associate for Indianapolis-based Eli
Lilly and Co., a pharmaceutical firm that has produced broadcasts
with Rosemont, Ill.-based Eventcom International, a division of
Marriott. Eventcom’s satellite product, LaunchStar, was created
largely to cater to the pharmaceutical industry.
Thanks in part to the digital satellite
explosion in the late 1990s, which shrank both the cost and size of
dishes, the technology is rapidly improving, and the support for
broadcasts is broadening.
Now, companies are offering clients
more ways to make the broadcasts interactive, patching in live
telephone calls, accepting questions via fax, e-mail or text
message, and providing attendees with audience-response systems,
such as wireless keypad devices, that allow them to interact with
presenters in real time.
The broadcasts can be streamed on the
web or delivered to a dial-in phone service that allows listeners
to hear the presentation from any phone, both as a way to reach new
attendees or as a back-up system to the potentially tenuous
satellite feed. Companies can archive the material online or burn
it on DVDs to be included in future sales kits.
The satellite companies also offer a
variety of post-broadcast services, from collating unanswered
questions to conducting feedback surveys to, in the case of
Eventcom, tracking physicians’ prescriptions to determine if the
event changed their behavior.
Each company offers slightly different
services with its broadcast package, but, for a price, each can
closely approximate what the others provide.
One difference among satellite
providers is the type and location of viewing venues they typically
employ. Velocity is unique in having built-in infrastructure at
Morton’s restaurants; most have to set up screens and downlinks at
different venues, normally hotel meeting rooms, for each
Other variables include the quality of
the image; the kind of backup system used, if any, in case a
satellite link can’t be established; the level of on-site support,
and the extent of post-broadcast services. Velocity and Eventcom
offer one point of contact for the entire event; others require
planners to juggle more on their own.